One of the most historic decisions the UK will make for a generation is in just a few weeks. On Thursday 23 June the British people will vote in a referendum to decide whether the UK should remain in or leave the European Union.
I am convinced that we will be stronger, safer and better off remaining in a reformed EU, rather than out on our own.
But this is a decision for you, the British people, not me or any other politician. The outcome of this referendum will affect not only your life, but the lives of your children and grand-children. So whatever you think, make sure you have your say.
We know that British citizens living overseas are more interested in this poll than any before. Already more of you have registered to vote than in total for last year’s General Election. But this is still just a fraction of the millions of British people who live overseas and are eligible to vote. That’s why we are supporting the Electoral Commission to help our eligible citizens all over the world to register to vote.
So what is stopping you? Maybe you think you are not eligible? You are, as long as you have been registered to vote in the UK within the last 15 years. Or maybe you think the process will be too complicated? It’s not – it is easier than ever, and takes just five minutes online. You need your passport and National Insurance number, then go to www.gov.uk/register-to-vote (or search for ‘UK register to vote’).
Perhaps you are worried about your voting papers not reaching you in time? We have been working with the Electoral Commission to get ballot packs sent out much earlier than for previous polls, with enough return postage. So as long as you register by 16 May, your vote should make it back to the UK in time to be counted. If you live in a country where the postal system is particularly slow or unreliable, then you can appoint a proxy, where someone you trust votes in the UK on your behalf.
Or perhaps you think this referendum doesn’t matter? This decision will affect your loved ones living back in the UK. And this decision affects you: in this modern world you may live or work overseas for a few years, then go back to Britain. Some of you have spent a lifetime working in and contributing to the UK. Most still have deep ties; whether family, property, drawing a pension, or the prospect of returning. Regardless of your story, it is clear that we all have something at stake.
Finally, don’t assume that because you voted in the General Election last year that you are still registered to vote – you have to renew your registration every year.
Whatever you think, and whatever method you choose, don’t miss the opportunity to have your say in this historic decision, which will affect all of us and our families for decades to come.
Rt Hon David Lidington MP is the British Government’s Minister of State for Europe.